Could Hydroelectric Dams become Obsolete?

hydroelectric dams

Could hydroelectric dams one day become obsolete?  That is the question pontificated in a very interesting article I just stumbled upon.  The article focuses on the vast Northwest hydroelectric network and its impact on salmon, and surmises that dams may no longer be necessary due to surplus power emanating from successful energy efficiency programs, cheap natural gas, and expanding renewable energy sources.

Arguments for Reducing Hydroelectric Dams in the Northwest

The crux of the article focuses on the four federally-owned dams in Snake River in Washington State.  A U.S. District Judge has ordered an environmental review of the dams by 2018, and a final decision on a long-term plan by 2021.

The article puts forth several arguments for why the number of dams in the area should be reduced:

  • The dams are less valuable than they were decades ago due to the aforementioned energy surplus I the region
  • Digitization is reducing the benefit of dam infrastructure
  • The dams negatively impact the migration patterns of salmon – for example, the number of salmon in the Columbia River System, which has a whopping 31 dams, is only 5-10% of what it was in the early twentieth century

Arguments against Reducing Hydroelectric Dams in the Northwest

The article also presents arguments against reducing the number of hydroelectric dams in the area, such as:

  • The dams can provide instant sustained peaking capacity, which means the ability to supply power for up to 8 hours during times of peak demand
  • The region is forecast to have a power shortage by 2021, which means that the energy generated from the dams will be more important in the future
  • Wheat farmers in Idaho and Washington depend on shipping their grain through Snake River to remain competitive with foreign competition
  • The dams are carbon-friendly which helps fight global warming
  • The dams produce cheap energy

The bottom line is that the salmon issue seems like the only legitimate reason for considering reducing the number of hydroelectric dams in the Northwest.  Although this is a huge problem, I don’t think it’s enough to warrant removing dams and foregoing all the other benefits.  Just my opinion though; we shall see what happens!

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